Presented on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at the Park Church.John Pascal is in his sixteenth year teaching 9th and 11th grade English at Seton Hall Preparatory School in New Jersey. He is in his second year teaching a course he developed called “Writings of Mark Twain.” He is a contributing author to Mark Twain and Youth: Studies in His Life and Writings (2016); he is the author of Artemus Ward: The Gentle Humorist (2008); has presented papers on Mark Twain and Artemus Ward at Mark Twain Conferences in Elmira and Hannibal; and has reviewed books for the Mark Twain Forum. He holds a B.A. Cum Laude in English from Villanova University, an M.B.A. from Seton Hall University, and an M.A. in English from Montclair State University.
It is generally accepted that during his lifetime, Mark Twain was considered the preeminent American master storyteller and lecturer of humor. The tsunami that is Twain’s literary achievement can easily overwhelm the earlier vast movement of the American literary scene that led to its creation. The “underwater earthquake” of this movement is Charles Farrar Browne, but his more famous pseudonym is Artemus Ward. While there were earlier, as well as contemporary, humorous writers, Artemus Ward was regarded by William Dean Howells as “the humorist who first gave the world a taste of the humor that characterizes the whole American people.” Indeed, in 1862, President Lincoln laughed heartily while he read to his Cabinet passages from Ward’s first book. Ward’s uniqueness in telling a story from the lecture platform enthralled thousands throughout the United States and in Canada; he was also “the first deadpan comedian to take England by storm.” Despite these views, today Ward’s literary reputation is largely forgotten along with his distinctive contribution to the tradition of American humor. Thus he certainly is well deserving of study. This lecture will analyze the construction of his literary reputation by showing that what made Ward so popular in his time was the fact that his literary humor was rhetorically gentle. Ward parlayed the success of his nationally published letters into a commercially successful career as the first comedic lecturer to tour the nation. His platform appearances helped Twain become more professionally aware of humor’s literary and commercial value.